September 27-29, 2013
October 12, 2013
October 20, 2013
10 times approached = ~20 miles, ~4000 Gain.
~2,250 feet jugged/climbed on the Tower.
~2,112 miles driven
8 ropes used. 5 fixed.
A few minor injuries with perhaps more severe psychological trauma.
September 27, 2013: Pitch 1
I'll admit, at first, I wasn't sure I really wanted to do this tower. My last Fisher Tower experience ended with a 20 foot whipper 400 feet off the ground resulting in a torn tendon in my finger which ended my rock climbing for the rest of 2012. Plus, I was sleeping poorly due to dreams about climbing Cottontail. Why would I want to go back to the Fishers and climb this tower?
Having been in the desert since September 24th descending canyons and craggin at Indian Creek, I was sore. Really sore. About to bail, I received a text from Noah saying he had an extra day off of work and that he was planning on driving down so we could possibly fix 2-3 pitches that afternoon.
I figured I would migrate from Indian Creek to the Fishers, rope solo the first pitch, and then have Noah and David help finish fixing ropes to the saddle. Little did we know how much of an overly ambitious goal that was for one day. After all, we planned on only a 3 day weekend to complete the tower.
Arriving at the Fishers parking lot, my excitement for the tower increased. Being early, I shuttled 2 loads to the base of the tower, knowing that we had to fix several ropes for our planned 2-3 day climb of the tower. The beta we had rated the first pitch at 5.8 or “Fun.” That seemed reasonable for a rope solo.
Preparing for my rope solo, I anchored off of a tree at the base of the route and started up the first pitch. The first bulge was funky and as I got 2 placements up, I placed a “good” #1 BD cam and started stepping upward. Before fully committing to weighting the piece, an enormous rock, which the #1 was under, broke away crushing my cam. Wtf? It didn't appear that bulge was going to give away like that.
To top it off, there was a small scorpion hiding under the now removed bulge. My rope solo was over. A few hours passed before Noah and David finally arrived at the base of the tower. Excited, Noah wanted to take the first lead and started up around 3:30 PM. I was glad to see Noah was having some issues with the funky first bulge. Using David as a meat cairn, Noah bypassed the first bulge into a lovely off-width aid crack.
Noah starting up pitch 1. David the meat cairn.
Cursing commenced as the climbing obviously wasn't 5.8. Plenty of aid climbing continued on an “easy” free pitch. Rope drag, horrendous off-width, C2 and 5.9 PG-13 climbing, Noah cursed his way up to the first belay ledge. That took longer than we all expected.
Noah finishing pitch 1. (Photo by David)
I was planning on leading the second pitch but due to the lack of daylight left, we didn't want to have to finish pitch 2 in the dark. Day 1 on the tower and we only climbed 1 pitch. That's ok, we started late right?
September 28, 2013: Pitches 2-4
Brian arrived late on the 27th completing our team of four. We slept in a bit and started a little later than we expected. David and I jugged the first pitch as I was slated to lead pitch 2 and David was on tap for leading pitch 3. For the most part, pitch 2 wasn't too bad. The only scary placements were mostly at the top of bulges where if the piece blew, I would land on a ledge or bulge below. Nothing like a little OW aid climbing with lots of bulges.
Does this make my ass look big? Bulges on pitch 2. (Photo by David)
Near the top of the second pitch was a lovely squeeze chimney which I cursed my way through. Glad to be done, I fixed the ropes as David cleaned the pitch. Jugging the squeeze chimney looked worse than leading it. As David started his lead on pitch 3, Noah and Brian were enjoying the view from the base of the route. We were freezing as they were enjoying the sunshine and tourists.
Cottontail towers over us at the top of pitch 2.
Pitch 3 looked exciting as David aided his way up a mud dihedral. Plenty of mud rained down onto me as he made upward progress. As he neared the top, Brian and Noah started their jug since Brian was on tap to lead pitch 4.
David in the mud dihedral.
I started my jug, cleaning the placements on David's pitch. Due to the anchor location at the top of pitch 4, I had to be careful as I cleaned the last piece to avoid a pendulum swing. Apparently I wasn't careful enough and as I made the final jugging moves to the anchor, the rope gave way and I went for a sideways ride. The first injury of the trip as there is nothing like a coarse sand-belt to the back of the hand. The blood flowed nicely off of my right hand. Ouch.
Jugging the mud dihedral. (Photo by David)
Noah and Brian shortly followed to the top of pitch 3. We sorted gear and Brian started his lead on the first C3 crux. Questionable tri-cam placement after questionable tri-cam placement, Brian started his way up the C3 crack. Complaining about the quality of gear, he stood on a less than stellar piece. Milliseconds after he clipped a “decent” piece with his aider, the piece he was standing on blew. Brian took a minor fall onto his aiders. Luckily the piece he just clipped didn't blow as he would have certainly blown the prior 6-7 pieces decking onto our belay ledge.
A bit spooked Brian decided to bail off the pitch. During the fall, he had sliced his pinky finger and it was bleeding pretty bad. After evaluating his finger, Brian and I decided to descend back to the base and head into town to clean his pinky as it might have required some stitches. Noah took over the lead to complete the pitch.
Brian on the first crux throwing in the towel. (Photo by David)
Once Brian and I arrived in Moab we cleaned our wounds and decided Brian probably didn't need stitches. We returned back to the Fishers to check on the progress of the climb as we were hoping David and Noah were going to to fix another 1-2 pitches on the route. We hiked to the base of the tower and learned that Noah and David had only finished pitch 4 fixing ropes to the saddle. A little too much excitement for one day.
Day 2 injuries. Top: me. Bottom: Brian.
At least we had the first 4 pitches completed. With plenty of daylight left, we headed back into Moab and enjoyed a fine meal at the Moab Diner.
September 29, 2013: Pitch 5
Cottontail on the right. Echo on the left. Our route goes up the left side below the Cottontail-Echo saddle.
Not particularly excited to get back on the tower, I was awakened by Noah tapping on my car, saying let's go fix some pitches. Noah and I hiked to the base of the tower and jugged to the saddle where Noah took the lead for pitch 5. Right off the saddle, some aid trickery began as the first aid bolt was missing. The last party up the tower in 2012 said the bolt pulled right out. Lovely.
Looking up at the saddle between Echo and Cottontail.
Although short, pitch 5 offered some punch. The “bolt ladder” had basically turned into C2/3 climbing. The pitch had plenty of bulges with some scary friction free climbing thrown in for good measure.
Noah making some interesting free moves on pitch 5 above the saddle.
Brian decided to go visit family and decided not to jug to the saddle while David jugged to the saddle to give us encouragement. The saddle between Echo and Cottontail is perhaps one of the most unique areas I have been in the Fishers. Since it was obvious we had to return for a second weekend, I wasn't feeling up to leading the next pitch.
Our progress was lousy on the tower so we fixed our ropes and returned to the ground. At least we had a little over half of the tower completed.
David cheering for us at the saddle as we are on the top of pitch 5.
October 12, 2013: Pitch 6
Due to work and differing schedules, we had to skip a weekend before returning to Cottontail. For the next two weeks, I was having anxiety issues with more Cottontail dreams. Dreams about misplaced ropes, bulgy off-width climbing, and our fixed ropes being removed kept me up at night.
I arrived at a Park-N-Ride to meet Brian but upon arrival, Brian learned that his house was broken into so he had to return home to deal with that. David had work commitments and wasn't going to join us this weekend to finish. Noah and I decided we would fix another pitch and wait for Brian to join us the following weekend which also allowed David a chance to join us to finish the tower.
At the very least, we had to jug the ropes to move them to avoid wear on the ropes being fixed for so long on the route. Noah and I jugged to the saddle and to the top of pitch 5, where I took the lead for pitch 6.
Noah jugging pitch 5 on day 4.
The start of pitch six required a somewhat scary mud traverse with very little protection. There was a crack that was going to take gear but I had to mine a large amount of mud from the crack to allow space for the cams. I decided to double up the cams in the crack due to coating of mud.
Right above the bulge from the traverse was supposed to be a fixed pin; instead I had to use a questionable tri-cam. It was scary. Continuing upward, I thrashed in off-width and never ending bulges. The bulges made the aiding difficult since I wasn't able to get anywhere near top stepping. Then again, I don't top step in the Fishers. The last time I top stepped, is when I took my 20 foot whipper.
Nearing the top of pitch 6, the exposure become more intense. At a small saddle, I could look directly down for 700 feet and see people, appearing like ants, walking on the trail below. Another 1 pitch casual day was finished. Since Brian was going to return for the second C3 crux, we rappelled back down the route.
Me leading pitch 6. (Photo by Noah)
I was emotionally drained but also relieved. The advantage to a four person party is that the number of pitches we had to lead was minimized. Noah and I had led our share of the pitches and now it was time for David and Brian to come back to finish theirs. Fortunately, we only had 3 pitches left on the climb.
Echo from the top of pitch 6.
Noah jugging pitch 6. Notice the shadow of the tower.
Noah jugging pitch 6. Notice the shadow of the tower.
For Sunday, we decided to migrate to Indian Creek. I must admit, I love splitter Windgate Sandstone. What a relief the climbing was in Indian Creek from the Fishers.
October 20, 2013: Summit; Pitches 7-9.
Sleeping the next week went much better. My anxiety and dreams of Cottontail were diminished. I was excited all I had to do was jug to the top. David was planning on returning on Sunday while Noah and Brian were going to push through the the crux on Saturday. All I had to do was encourage Brian and have a casual day on the tower. We woke up Saturday morning and Brian was mentally spent. His anxiety was worse than mine and he was bailing on the tower completely. Now, who was going to lead the crux?
Noah and I discussed our options and agreed to finish the tower in a single day with David instead of jugging an extra 600 feet for another single pitch day. I agreed to lead the crux pitch and for Saturday we had an enjoyable day doing some local canyons and some solid rock cragging at Wallstreet. I needed to clear my head. Returning back to the Fishers, we met up with David.
I didn't sleep well Saturday night. In some sick way I was pretty excited to lead the crux but was nervous about what the pitch was going to entail. Having gear already packed, Noah, David and I got an early start hiking back to the base of Cottontail. We jugged our 600 feet to the top of pitch 6 where I geared up and prepared for the lead on pitch 7.
David jugging to the saddle on our summit day. Taken from the top of pitch 5.
Right off the belay ledge, the free climbing was tricky. A super muddy stem without protection led me upward. Finding solid feet was tricky as flakes of mud peeled away from the rock showering Noah and David. 8 feet up I noticed an old bolt stub. Being in a funky chimney position, I took a runner and tossed it several times around my back times trying to hero loop the bolt stud. Finally, I was able to snag the bolt.
To ensure that the hero loop was not going to slip off the bolt stud, I tied some cordelette to the sling and had Noah pull directly down on the loop giving pressure to the sling so it wouldn't slip off the bolt. At least I had some “protection” to make the final moves out of the muddy stem. Falling would have been bad. Really bad as it would have been a 20 foot fall well below my belayers certainly decking on the ledge below.
A good pin was satisfyingly clipped as I finished the committing stem. Now, I had to traverse 20 feet to the right on a muddy exposed ledge to the start of the C3 aid crack. The traverse was scary. Only in the Fishers can you have a poorly placed #4 or #5 cam. To protect the traverse, I had to use a flared #4 cam in mud. A body weight placement only. As I traversed, I noticed a new bolt and I was excited to clip the first real solid piece of protection.
Leaning out over the void 600 feet off the ground, I was able to make a semi-blind placement of an offset cam into the aid crack where the C3 aid climbing commenced. Above the cam, a fixed pecker, which I re-enforced, led me upward. The next placement was a 0.25 black tri-cam in a mud pocket which required a top step for next placement.
Scared, I weighted the black tri-cam and some cursing escaped my lips. From my belayers I hear, “Come on you candy ass.” Ah, what fine support. Chuckling, I stepped upward.
Without a doubt, the guidebook was correct in stating, “Ascend on devious aid to the start of a bolt ladder.” Once on the bolt ladder, my progress moved faster. About 80 percent of the bolts were scary relics appearing to pull out at any moment. What is impressive is Hass's mind-blowing free ascent of this pitch. I'm glad to see new bolts scattered into the mix of scare fest bolts.
Looking down from half way up the crux pitch.
Nearing the top of the pitch, I was left with one more final horrifying move. The mantle move to finish the pitch. The last three bolts were only the finest quarter inch star drives. Due to the rope drag, I had to pull a bunch of extra slack into the line so I wouldn't be pulled off the mantle move. There is no way the bolts would hold a fall and I was looking at a potentially 40 foot whip. Mustering courage to pull the final moves, I finally made the moves to the anchor.
David jugging pitch 7. (Photo by Noah)
Relic bolts, interesting placements and my destroyed #1 BD cam. (Photos by David, Noah and I)
Relieved, the crux was over. Noah and David jugged upward which took some time due to the traversing nature of the pitch. We were only two pitches from the top. David took the next pitch which went free at 5.9. “Enticing” off-width climbing led David up to the saddle. Plenty of mud showered down upon Noah and I as David went upward. Enjoying the views, I see a large cam go flying by.
“Dude, I think that was a number 4 cam.”
“Oh, I guess that didn't sound like a rock falling.”
The joys of the Fishers. Once David topped out, Noah and I quickly followed. We were close, really close.
Since this was Noah's final tower in the Fishers, he took the final C1 pitch. It's hard to remember what C1 climbing is like in the Fishers since every bit of aid climbing on this route had been C2 or harder. Noah made great time aiding up the short 40 foot summit block. I cleaned the route and felt a tingling sensation of joy pulling the final mantle move to the summit.
The summit of Cottontail was perhaps one of the finest and most rewarding summits I had ever been on. Exposed, small and towering 900 feet off of the ground, the views of the expansive landscape were mind-blowing. The amount of effort and persistence this tower took made the summit all that more rewarding. The Titan and Kingfisher guarded our sides while Castle Valley appeared to expand forever to the south.
The Titan from the summit.
David jugging to the summit.
Parking lot and Ancient Art from the summit.
The Titan again.
Looking towards Castle Valley.
The truth was that we were only halfway done and we still needed to get down. Our descent was going to require 8 rappels with the removal of all of our fixed ropes. The first two rappels to the top of the 7th pitch went smoothly. Ideally, rappelling down the route Road Kill, which is down the face, would have been desired; however, the unknown condition of the bolts on that route left us nervous. Those bolts haven't been replaced in 20 years. Who knows when someone went down that route last time.
We fixed a guide line from the top of pitch 7 to the top of pitch 6 to help guide us on the traverse. Noah went first and had no issues. Now, my turn. This rappel ended up being one of the worst rappels I have ever done and not helping the matter was my 40lb backpack with a good portion of our aid rack and a rope.
I started down the rappel, but near the bottom, the guide line got stuck on a bulge. Unable to continue downward due to the bulge, I was stuck. No problem, I'll just jug back up the line, get some tension off of the line, un-clip the guide line and have Noah give me a Texas belay when I get down.
The jugging went smoothly and I un-clipped the guide line which was still stuck on the bulge; I couldn't free it. Returning back to a rappel, I started downward. At the low point in the rappel, where Noah was supposed to give me a Texas belay back to the belay ledge, the rope became kinked into my rappelling device. Now I was really stuck. Jugging back up the line wasn't much of an option since I had traversed already 20 feet to the left leaving me with a huge swing potential with consequential rope damage.
Tension in the line, along with the kink, I didn't have the option pulling/jugging to the anchor. To top things off, it was getting dark. The weight of the backpack made things even more difficult. Using some prussik tricks along with ascender shenanigans, I was somehow able to get an extra inch of rope through the kink. The extra inch was just enough to allow me to get to the belay ledge with Noah. I was really glad to be done with that rappel. I think Noah was entertained.
That rappel took me 45 minutes and it was thoroughly dark. We still had 5 more rappels. Fortunately, the rest of the rappels went without a hitch. On the final rappel, I had the heavy backpack and 3 ropes attached to me. My hips hurt and we were all relieved when we all reached the ground. The bunny put on a good fight all the way to the end.
The last rappel to the ground. 3 ropes and ˝ of a rack.
David and I stashed 4 ropes and half of the rack at the base since we were going to make another trip to ferry the final bit of gear and ropes off the tower in the morning. Returning back to the parking lot, the silhouette of Cottontail towered over us and all we could do was look up and bask in our joy.
West Side Story VI, 5.9 C3
This route can be done in easily in 2 or 3 days. We had 3 days of single pitch days which could have easily been added to other days. Due to group dynamics and logistics we ended up with extra days. Pitch 1: Starting at the left side of the saddle between Echo and Cottontail, climb up an awkward bulge to a crack. This crack is 40 feet to the right from the base of Echo. Aid up the crack, veer right over two bolt studs to a ledge. Continue up the wide crack to a large belay ledge with a small tree. Expect off-width climbing with several bulges. 5.9 C2, 130 feet. Pitch 2: From the belay anchor, continue up bulgy terrain with a few fixed pins and some free moves to a chimney. Squeeze through the chimney to another large belay ledge. 5.7 C2+, 85 feet. Pitch 3: Traverse left 30 feet and climb a mud chimney/dihedral. When the crack splits, continue up the right crack and not up the left crack to the visible anchor. Some off-width near the top of the right crack finishes the pitch on another good belay ledge. 5.8 C2, 80 feet. Pitch 4: Aid up the left seam traversing back right into a wider crack. Near the top, veer right and do a committing scary mantle to the saddle. 5.9 C3, 100 feet. Pitch 5: Walk across the saddle to the start of the ridge up Cottontail. Aid through some interesting bolts mixed with some scary free climbing to a ledge. 5.9 C2/3, 65 feet. Pitch 6: Traverse right 15 feet on a muddy ledge to a seam. Interesting protection up the seam leads into an off-width crack with lots of bulges. Belay at a small notch. 5.9 C2, 90 feet. Pitch 7: A committing dirty stem up the notch leads to a fixed pin. From the pin, traverse right 25 feet (scary) to a bolt and make a semi-blind placement into a crack. Interesting aid climbing up the crack leads to a relic bolt ladder. Finish the pitch with a scary mantle to the belay ledge. 5.8-9 C3, 110 feet. Pitch 8: One bulge leads to a 5.9 off-width crack. Climb the OW crack to a chimney splitting the tower. Climb the 5.7 chimney up to the shoulder. 5.9, 115 feet. Pitch 9: Walk along the shoulder to the south side of the tower. Climb a wide crack with a 5.8 finish to the summit. 5.8 C1, 40 feet.
Descent: Rap 1: Single rope rappel from the summit to the shoulder. Rap 2: Double Rope rappel to the top of Pitch 7. Ideally, rappel Road Kill (bolts will most likely need replaced on those anchors). Since we didn't know the condition of the bolts on Road Kill, we rappelled the route. Rap 3: Make sure to fix a rope between Pitch 6 and 7 to guide the rappel back to the top of pitch 6. Watch bulges with the guide line and make a double rope rappel to the top of Pitch 6. It is recommended to extend the anchor to ensure a smoother rope pull. Rap 4: Another fixed line to the top of pitch 5 is recommended. Make a double rope rappel to the top of pitch 5. Rap 5: Single rope rappel back to the saddle. Rap 6: Double rope rappel from the saddle to the top of pitch 2. Rap 7: Single rope rappel to the top of pitch 1. Rap 8: Double rope rappel to the ground.
This is a conservative rack.
Single set of TCU's and Single BD #0.3-0.5. Triple BD #0.75-5. Single #6. One set of offset cams and double set 0.5-2 tri-cams. Single 0.25 and 2.5 tri-cams.
The 0.25 black tri-cam was crucial for the crux. Did not use offset nuts, ballnuts or hooks. Stick clip may come in handy for bolts that might pull or might be missing. Hammer might be advised for resetting pins or fixed peckers. Bring lots of runners, screamers and draws.
West Side Story Topo.
I'll make another video when I get time edit video footage. Here is one short video I made after our first weekend. It includes Brian's fall and a mud missile.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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